The Interview with Dudjom Rinpoche
Shambhala Publications Staff: I would appreciate your talking about the Dzogchen (rDzog-cben) teachings, or what is known as Ati yoga. Could we begin with some historical background? Does any of the Dzogchen teachings predate Buddhism?
Dudjom Rinpoche: The Buddhist teachings that we know in this age were given to us by Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha. This is the Buddhadharma period of Buddha Shakyamuni. However, in actual fact, the Dzogchen teachings originate from Samantabhadra Dharmakaya. They have existed from time immemorial. According to the Dzogchen lineage, there are twelve teachers, or twelve Buddhas. Buddha Shakyamuni is one of these twelve; he was the last to appear.
Sogyal Rinpoche: So in a sense, these teachings do predate the Buddhism that is known today.
Dudjom Rinpoche: Dzogchen teachings have, from time immemorial, been in the Dharmakaya and have been directly transmitted to the Sambhogakaya Buddhas, who have been continuously teaching in the Sambhogakaya field of timeless time. So therefore Dzogchen goes beyond historical time.
How are these teachings transmitted?
Dudjom Rinpoche: In the Dharmakaya field, the teaching is given directly (dGong,rGyud); it is "mind-direct" transmission. Whereas in the Sambhogakaya field the transmission is through signs (brDa-rGyud).
(Note: In the Nirmanakaya field the transmission is oral (sNyan rGyud).
And in the Nirmanakaya state?
Dudjom Rinpoche: The twelve Buddhas that we mentioned before and who belong to the Dzogchen lineage have appeared in the Nirmanakaya state, or field. It is the state of manifestation. From the very beginning of time till now, twelve Buddhas of the Dzogchen lineage have appeared in the different spheres according to the needs of beings. However, the one known to us is Buddha Shakyamuni who was the last in the line.
The uniqueness of Dzogchen is that if one can take the teachings to heart, it guarantees complete liberation in this lifetime and in this body.
Are these different states or "Kayas" accomplishable in this lifetime?
Dudjom Rinpoche: The "mind-direct" transmission is in the Dharmakaya, the samadhi state, out of which all sphere and states evolve; there are twenty-five different levels. We are on the thirteenth level, or path of the Buddhadharma. These concepts are very difficult.
And these different states can be attained during this lifetime?
Dudjom Rinpoche: Certainly. (Laughs) That is what Dzogchen is all about. Dzogchen has actualized this. In the present dharma of Buddha Shakyamuni there are two teachings: the Sutrayana, the causal vehicle, and the secret Mantrayana, called the resultant vehicle. Buddha Shakyamuni himself prophesied before his Parinirvana that one would come who was even greater than himself. This prophesy was fulfilled in the person of Guru Padmasambhava. He came to reveal the secret dharma teachings of Mantrayana that Buddha Shakyamuni had not fully made known. Therefore, the basis and the whole of secret Mantrayana really evolved specifically through Guru Padmasambhava.
In what way do the teachings differ from one another?
Dudjom Rinpoche: It takes many, many lifetimes of accumulating merit and removing defilements to attain enlightenment through the Hinayana. Even attaining bDag-med (the realization of egoless mind, liberation from samsara, or cessation of suffering), let alone enlightenment, takes many, many lives on the Hinayana path. According to the Mahayana path, one has to spend three kalpas accumulating merit and three more removing defilements. According to the secret Mantrayana path, one can reach enlightenment in seven to sixteen lifetimes. However, the uniqueness of Dzogchen is that if one can take the teachings to heart, it guarantees complete liberation in this lifetime and in this body. And if one misses the chance in this lifetime, then one can gain enlightenment in the bardo state and if not in the bardo state, then in the next lifetime. But enlightenment is completely and fully guaranteed in seven lifetimes.
Seven lifetimes or seven thousand miles! (Laughter)
Sogyal Rinpoche: Yes! The crucial point is that you must keep the samaya pledges of the Dzogchen teachings in this lifetime. This in itself will elevate you to a fuller spiritual development in the next life. Thus, in each successive lifetime, you will become more spiritually developed than in the previous one until ultimately you are fully enlightened: This depends on not breaking the samaya pledges.
What are the samaya pledges?
Dudjom Rinpoche: Samaya, or Damt-shig, are, briefly, pledges that one must keep and abide by. They are a way of taking the teachings to heart. They are mainly the body, speech, and mind pledges.
...in this turbulent period, whatever one does is speeded up. Karma keeps pace with the twentieth century and Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) keeps pace with it also.
Are the pledges hard to keep?
Dudjom Rinpoche: There are so many Damt-shig, but if one were truly devoted, then keeping them is not difficult. On the other hand, if one is lazy and naive and does not have a strong mind, then keeping the pledges would be difficult. So it is very much up to oneself whether one makes it difficult or easy. Whether one keeps them or not depends on devotion (Dad pa), industry (brTson bGus), and wisdom (Shes rab).
In Hinayana, are most of these pledges for monks?
Dudjom Rinpoche: Even in the Hinayana there are lay devotees who keep the basic precepts. They are known as dGe,sNyan, which means those who cultivate good and virtuous dharmas; they are those who are cultivating the four various levels of dGe,Nyan. You must remember that in Hinayana the stress is on conduct and on the absolute renunciation of samsara. This includes the home and marriage. From Mahayana onwards, there is more flexibility of conduct and a greater breadth of mind, a quality of openness. In Hinayana, the view is less encompassing and the actions are more restricted.
How does one go about practicing the Dzogchen teachings?
Dudjom Rinpoche: Dzogchen teachings concerning the View, Meditation, and Action can only be granted and realized through the personal guidance of a qualified lama.
Is this the reason these teachings are kept secret?
Dudjom Rinpoche: These teachings will not be made public. The teachings can only take place if there are really serious devotees who take the teachings to heart and accept the personal guidance of a teacher. In these spiritually degenerate times, secret Mantrayana teachings are being publicly revealed; it is not realized that these teachings, especially the Ati yoga teachings, are under the protection of the Dharmapala like Ekajati. These teachings consist of rbyud (tantra), Lung (oral transmission), and Man-nGag (secret instruction and guidance). The untimely revelation of such powerful teachings would incur the wrath of these Dharmapala, which would have an adverse effect not only on the revelator but those who took part in receiving them. Misfortunes might befall them.
Dudjom Rinpoche: Yes. Ekajati is the sole protector of the Dzogchen teachings.
Sogyal Rinpoche: It is important that they are transmitted personally under favorable auspices. On the other hand, secret Mantrayana teachings are self-secret. Even if you try to learn them by yourself you won't understand them, and what is even worse, you will misunderstand them. If correctly carried out, first the teacher examines the disciple, then the disciple, after careful consideration, accepts the teacher. This way, both can cope with each other. In a situation where the teacher, with discretion and wisdom, finds the disciples ready, then fine. Otherwise we break or impair the lineage of the teachings. Once we are initiated into a particular mandala, the samaya pledges bind us together with the lineage, almost creating a common and linked karma.
...putting it into practice; this is samaya. All this can be done through devotion, industry, and wisdom.
If one of us breaks a pledge, the others in the mandala are affected. It affects the life of the lama, his works, and the spiritual development of his followers; it affects the teaching. This is very, very important, and therefore samaya pledges should not be treated too lightly. You must look before you leap. It is important to keep harmony within the vajra family, with one's vajra brothers and sisters, all followers of the Vajrayana path, but particularly those of one's lama: people who received the initiation or the teachings together in one circle. We must not forget the pledges to the teaching and lineage itself. It is not just a matter of receiving something but of putting it into practice; this is samaya. All this can be done through devotion, industry, and wisdom.
Dudjom Rinpoche: There are higher Dzogchen teachings of which one cannot even receive the oral transmission without empowerment, let alone permission to read them. For instance, when the word of the Buddha was translated from the Pali and Sanskrit texts into Tibetan, the Dzogchen teachings were not included because they did not dare to make them available to the general public. Dzogchen teachings were kept separate and were called "rNying ma 'i rGyud 'bum."
Who taught them? Who were the teachers?
Dudjom Rinpoche: The teaching came down from the Dharmakaya Samantabhadra to the Sambhogakaya Vajrasattva, to Nirmanakaya in the form of Garab Dorje (the first human teacher of the Dzogchen lineage). From Garab Dorje it was passed to Shir'a,scng-wa (Shri Singha) and then to Padmasambhava (the second Buddha) and so forth.
He [Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava)] is the Buddha of our time and cuts through our neuroses and skillfully relates the dharma to the frustrations of our age.
In your opinion, what are the chances of Dzogchen taking root here in the United States?
Dudjom Rinpoche and Thinley Norbu Rinpoche
Dudjom Rinpoche: From my travels, I think the United States has the best possibilities. Of course, it is very much up to the people themselves. There seems to be, at the present time, a tremendous interest in this line of teaching. There seems to be quite a lot of devotion to Guru Padmasambhava. It depends on the Americans themselves. Their collective karma will play an important part in how they work with the teachings. If the American people work and really want this, if they follow it properly, then of course, the compassion and blessings of the Buddhas and lamas of the lineage would take effect.
Sogyal Rinpoche: This particular era is very turbulent and everything is kind of gross, but it is exactly in this kind of field that Guru Padmasambhava's compassion and power works best. And another point is that in this turbulent period, whatever one does is speeded up. Karma keeps pace with the twentieth century and Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) keeps pace with it also. He is the Buddha of our time and cuts through our neuroses and skillfully relates the dharma to the frustrations of our age.
Dudjom Rinpoche: Yes, this is so. He is the most direct of all the Buddhas in giving aid in this age.
So, because of this speeding up, it is not only a very turbulent and degenerate time, but it is also an exceptional time for a great deal to be accomplished on the spiritual plane.
Dudjom Rinpoche: That's up to the people. Guru Rinpoche said,
"Time doesn't change, people change."
If people really follow him and ask his help, he will respond, and under his compassion and grace, the secret Mantrayana teachings will continue, especially Ati yoga teachings and, for that matter, the entire Buddhadharma. There is hope.
This is very interesting because America, or the United States, has been exposed to Buddhism under the form of Hinayana and Mahayana since the 1800's, but when we consider Tibetan Buddhism, it was-boom. You see, it came very quickly. Suddenly the Chinese took over Tibet, and many Tibetans fled and eventually come to the States to teach Buddhism. But all this happened in a relatively short period of time.
Dudjom Rinpoche: It shows the karmic link that America has with the secret Mantrayana teachings of Guru Padmasambhava. (In other words, the Tibetan Buddhism, which is the secret Mantra-vajrayana, originates from the teachings of Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche was the first and sole consolidator and propagator of the Vajrayana teachings and practice.)
Working skillfully on ourselves and not totally giving up our worldly goods leads quickly to attainment.
If one felt this devotion to Guru Rinpoche, how would one begin to practice?
Dudjom Rinpoche: We must put ourselves completely in his hands: our body, our speech, our mind. Complete reliance on him, following his teachings in practice, and directing his mantra are necessary as the basis of confidence and strength in the Vajrayana practice. (Guru Rinpoche's mantra can be made available to all. It is one mantra that can openly be revealed.) All this is true. The uniqueness of Guru Rinpoche's line is that we do not totally have to change our life style or take on the stricter precepts as is found in Hinayana. Working skillfully on ourselves and not totally giving up our worldly goods leads quickly to attainment.
On behalf of the Shambhala Review of Books and Ideas we would like to thank you for granting this interview.